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All posts for the month April, 2015

By Jim White, Senior Fellow for Land and Biodiversity Management

I don’t always go out looking for wildflowers, but when I do I particularly like to look for those that bloom in early spring, often called the “spring ephemerals”. More knowledgeable botanizers may consider all wildflowers interesting and fun to search for; however, my favorites are those that bloom in early spring. They are called “ephemerals” because of their relatively short blooming periods; these plants are the first to push up through the cold forest floor and burst into bloom in March, April and early May. Well before the leaves emerge on the trees above, the woodlands in our area become dotted with these usually small and unassuming plants. Searching for spring ephemerals is half the fun, and each spring I find myself out in the otherwise bare woods looking for, admiring, and photographing these ephemeral beauties. So join me now for a virtual walk in the woods on a quest to find these forest jewels.

Round-lobed Hepatica Flint Woods Presserve 13 April 2015 Jim White

Round-lobed Hepatica by Jim White

The first bloom that we will look for is that of the Round-lobed Hepatica. In late March this unassuming plant throws up small but beautiful lavender, six to ten-“petal” (actually sepals) flowers through the blanket of last year’s tree leaves. Hepaticas are not especially common, and like many of the ephemerals they can be easily overlooked. However, if we search carefully in rich mature woodlands, we might get lucky and find one or two plants. If we do, we may well find ourselves lying on our bellies in order to get the perfect photo of these small but gorgeous flowers.

Dutchman's Britches in garden 15 April 2015 Jim White

Dutchman’s Breeches by Jim White

As the ground temperature begins to rise in early to mid-April many other wildflowers begin to bloom. Now we can search for patches of Bloodroot that often dot the woods with their delicate 2-3” long, white petals; along with the pinkish flowers of the well-named Spring Beauty; and Trout Lily with its showy, yellow, almost orchid-like flower. Dutchman’s Breeches, which gets its name from the fact that the flowers resemble the pants of a Dutchman, are also beginning to bloom (personally I have never seen the pants of a Dutchman, but I will take others’ word for it). On our walk we will also look for the delicate Cut-leaved Toothwort. If we are real lucky we might locate a patch of the uncommon Goldenseal or the delicate red flowers of Wild Columbine.

Virginia Bluebells Jim White

Virginia Bluebells by Jim White

Exploring onward, I have left the showiest of spring ephemerals for last: Virginia Bluebells. We’ll have to walk in rich floodplains like those of the Brandywine Valley to see the best patches of these relatively large spring ephemerals with their striking, blue, bell-like flowers. We’ll take our time here admiring and filling our memory cards with photos of this glorious plant.

Wood Columbine Jim White

Wild Columbine by Jim White

Now it’s time to take a break in our quest to see more kinds of spring wildflowers. Join me again in a couple of weeks for Part 2 of our search, at which time we’ll aim to catch the second wave of the spring ephemerals.

By Lori Athey, Habitat Coordinator

The annual Native Plant Sale is coming up April 30-May 3 and our theme this year is Blooms with Impact: Blooms for People and Pollinators. Lots of our pollinators are struggling, just a few examples include:  European Honeybees threatened by Colony Collapse Disorder, and Monarch populations dropping alarmingly. Without pollinators, our food supply would be seriously compromised and many of these same pollinators including bees, wasps, flies, beetles, and others, also help keep pest insects under control.

Pollinators need flowers, so providing continuous bloom from spring through fall is the best way to provide for these insects. We are offering some great plants this year at the Delaware Nature Society’s Native Plant Sale, but to help you find the best plants for your garden, here are the favorite plants of some of our staff:

A number of staff chose the Monardas or Beebalms as their top pick in the garden. Joanne Malgiero, Membership and Annual Giving Coordinator combines Monarda fistulosa with Vernonia and a pink Phlox in her garden and says that not only is the combination beautiful but “there is always something happening in that corner”. Michele Wales, Coverdale Farm Site Manager and beekeeper loves the red Beebalm for the hummingbirds and bumble bees. Sue Bara, Teacher Naturalist and Herbalist, loves the Monardas for their healing qualities. I just think the flowers look cool.

Monarda and Bee Balm will attract Ruby-throated Hummingbirds, Bumblebees and Hummingbird Moths.  Photo by Lori Athey.

Monarda and Bee Balm will attract Ruby-throated Hummingbirds, Bumblebees and Hummingbird Moths. Photo by Lori Athey.

As a beekeeper, Michele Wales also loves the Symphyotrichums or Asters, which provide nectar and pollen to not only her honey bees, but a wide array of other native pollinators as well. CSA Farmer Dan O’Brien echoes her admiration and points out that all of those insects attracted to the Asters also help pollinate the crops that he plants in the CSA garden.

Asters provide a late season source of nectar for many native pollinators.  Photo by Rick Darke.

Asters provide a late season source of nectar for many native pollinators. Photo by Rick Darke.

CSA Farmer Dan and Jim White, Land Management Fellow and Entomologist both sing the praises of the Eutrochiums and Eupatoriums, otherwise known as Joe Pye Weed and Thoroughworts for attracting butterflies, bees and lots of other pollinators. In my garden we call this one “Butterfly Crack” because it is so popular.

Monarchs and other butterflies can't get enough Joe-pye Weed.  Photo by Lori Athey.

Monarchs and other butterflies can’t get enough Joe-pye Weed. Photo by Lori Athey.

Alice Mohrman, Abbotts Mill Education Coordinator, recommends Vaccinium corymbosum or Highbush Blueberry. Almost 300 species of Lepidoptera (butterfly and moth) caterpillars use this as a host plant! In addition, it is fun to watch the bumblebees make a hole in the base of the flower to get to the pollen and nectar. It also has attractive fruit for you and the birds, as well as pretty fall color.

Sue Bara also recommends the Solidagos or Goldenrods for their herbal properties. Did you know that the leaves can be used as first-aid for minor wounds (among other healing qualities)? The Goldenrods light up the fall with their bright yellow flowers that attract hoards of pollinators.

Meadow Fritillary and many other pollinators go wild over Solidago, the Goldenrods.  Photo by Lori Athey.

Meadow Fritillary and many other pollinators go wild over Solidago, the Goldenrods. Photo by Lori Athey.

Shelia Vincent loves to show groups of children the Asclepias or Milkweed and Butterflyweeds because of their interesting flowers, milky sap and funky seedpods. In addition to a variety of pollinators looking for nectar, you can often find Monarch caterpillars munching on them too.

John Harrod, DEEC Site Manager recommends Rudbeckia fulgida var. fulgida as a good tough plant for urban gardens and “for its profusion of flowers that are smaller and tend to bloom later but longer than the more common Rudbeckia hirta. I like that it ages well and does not look so scraggly like R. hirta once it is past its prime. In addition to a wide variety of pollinators, it attracts cool creatures like the yellow crab spider I found on one day eating a fly.”

This Goldenrod Crab Spider will sit and wait for prey on yellow flowers like Rudbeckia.  Photo by John Harrod.

This Goldenrod Crab Spider will sit and wait for prey on yellow flowers like Rudbeckia. Photo by John Harrod.

Two more of my favorite plants for pollinators are Echinacea purpurea or Purple Coneflower and Ceanothus americanus or New Jersey Tea. The Echinacea is a magnet for all kinds of butterflies and bees, and after the flowers have gone to seed, flocks of Goldfinches. The Ceanothus is a small shrub with billowy white flowers that attracts some very strange-looking pollinators as well as small butterflies.
Once established, these are all tough, hard to kill plants, so you can try them in your yard with confidence.

Happy gardening and we will see you at the Native Plant Sale, April 30 to May 1!

By Matt Babbitt, Director of Abbott’s Mill Nature Center:

As Mother Nature ushers in the warmth and rain of spring, we’d like to take a moment to reflect on the winter here at Abbott’s Mill Nature Center.

A view of Abbott’s Mill from across the Pond.

A view of Abbott’s Mill from across the Pond.

This year’s winter held a tight grip on southern Delaware, bringing a few feet of snow, and steady dose of cold, crisp air. Despite the Old Man’s best efforts though, we had several visitors that helped ease the freeze. Abbott’s Pond was frozen until early March, but hosted quite a large flock of Ring-necked Ducks diving for vegetation to prepare them for the migration to their northern mating grounds.

Ring-necked Ducks paddling across Abbott’s Pond.

Ring-necked Ducks paddling across Abbott’s Pond.

There was a Red Shouldered Hawk that kept constant watch over the forest surrounding Johnson’s Branch.

A Red Shouldered Hawk perches in wait for prey.

A Red Shouldered Hawk perches in wait for prey.

Even the trees and plants, barren of leaves and succumbed to winter’s cold blow, were able to share their beauty.

The sun breaks through the swampy tree line of our Issacs-Greene Preserve.

The sun breaks through the swampy tree line of our Issacs-Greene Preserve.

Our giant 5 in 1 Tulip Poplar stretches for the heavens, gleaning the day’s fading rays of sun.

Our giant 5 in 1 Tulip Poplar stretches for the heavens, gleaning the day’s fading rays of sun.

Our giant 5 in 1 Tulip Poplar stretches for the heavens, gleaning the day’s fading rays of sun.

One of our first signs that spring was on its way was the little purple and green heads of Skunk Cabbage popping up through the snow, literally and figuratively melting the snow away.

Skunk Cabbage, Symplocarpus foetidus, is able to heat itself to almost 60° F through an internal chemical process.  This heat not only melts the snow as it emerges, but provides a warm hiding spot for insects.

Skunk Cabbage, Symplocarpus foetidus, is able to heat itself to almost 60° F through an internal chemical process. This heat not only melts the snow as it emerges, but provides a warm hiding spot for insects.

Lastly, this year’s winter also brought a new Manager to Abbott’s Mill Nature Center. Matt Babbitt joined us in December 2014 and brings with him a passion of teaching and exploring by way of Virginia, California, New York, the islands of Chesapeake Bay, and most recently, Washington, DC. Now that Old Man Winter’s grip has finally loosened, we invite you to come visit us at Abbott’s Mill Nature Center and explore our 500 acres of forest, swamp, meadow, pond, stream, and wetland ecosystems. The wonders of spring wait for your arrival!

Abbott’s Mill Nature Center, located at 15411 Abbotts Pond Road, Milford, DE, is open Monday through Friday from 9 am – 4 pm, with public trail access 7 days a week from dawn until dusk. Starting this April, the Visitor Center will also be open on Saturday and Sunday from 12 – 4 pm.

Abbott’s Mill Nature Center, located at 15411 Abbotts Pond Road, Milford, DE, is open Monday through Friday from 9 am – 4 pm, with public trail access 7 days a week from dawn until dusk. Starting this April, the Visitor Center will also be open on Saturday and Sunday from 12 – 4 pm.